May 10, 2013 by abbyo
Whether or not a person enjoys Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” depends pretty heavily on whether or not they like Baz Luhrmann as a filmmaker. That’s basically all you need to know. The director of “Strictly Ballroom,” “Romeo + Juliet,” “Moulin Rouge” and “Australia” is a pretty polarizing figure. I’m not a fan, so you can probably guess which way this review is going to skew. I will say that I don’t hate “Gatsby” the way I hate (and that’s a truly accurate term) every other movie Luhrmann’s made since 1996. That is the best thing I can say about “The Great Gatsby,” and surely the closest thing to glowing praise that the director will ever get from me.
Do you like glitter? Do you like filmmaking that barely stops to catch its breath lest you notice how shallow the characters are? How about over-the-top visuals? You like those? Then, friends, “Gatsby” is the movie for you, and nothing I can say will keep you from enjoying it for those reasons. If that sort of filmmaking isn’t really your bag, then congratulations—you’ve earned the right to spend two and half hours watching a movie that is far more worthy of your time (say, “The Place Beyond the Pines,” which will also save you an additional three minutes of butts-in-seats time).
The story of “The Great Gatsby,” of course adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, is told to us by Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a young man who moves to Long Island with dreams of striking it rich a bonds trader. He makes his home in fictional West Egg, just across the Long Island Sound from his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and her husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton), who live in fashionable East Egg. Nick is also right next door to mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) who throws extravagant parties, and shares a romantic past with Daisy that he’s eager to re-create.
Unlike seemingly every other critic reviewing this movie, I haven’t read Fitzgerald’s novel (the high school English curriculum in rural Southeast Kansas is probably to blame for that). So, I can only judge “Gatsby” as a movie. And, as a movie, it’s not terrible. It’s very flashy, and parts of it are kind of fun. Other parts, like casting Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan as Jewish gangster Meyer Wolfsheim, are unintentionally funny, which is still entertaining, so there’s that.
But for the most part, as with Luhrmann’s other movies, “Gatsby” is all style and no substance. The director is all about glitter cannons, and a romanticized view of the gin-soaked 1920s. Social criticism is so far off his radar that it doesn’t even register. This film is like a 143-minute Chanel commercial, with a bizarre soundtrack by Jay-Z. Some people are really into that. I’m not, but in this instance I get why people might be.
I think the most I can provide in terms of a reaction to Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” is indifference. I don’t hate the movie, but I won’t jump up to sing its praises, either. It just…sort of…is. More avid Luhrmann fans than I might be able to come up with something a bit less noncommittal. But I’m not an avid Luhrmann fan. I’d love to see a better, more interesting Australian filmmaker (say, Rolf De Heer —look him up) get the kind of mainstream support and multi-million dollar budgets that Luhrmann has. But sometimes the world is an unfair place. Sometimes the best-known representative of a country with a rich, fascinating cinematic history is the one with the least interesting things to say.